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Today I wanted to discuss two of the hottest skincare ingredients of the past few years and dig a little into how ubiquitous they are in our products and why that might not be the best thing in the world. Let's dive in...
Niacinamide is a fantastic multi-tasking ingredient; it can help with excess pigmentation, it can help boost the skin barrier by increasing ceramide production (leading to stronger, less-irritated skin that can retain moisture effectively), calm inflammation and also help regulate oil production in the skin. The studies done on this ingredient show it gives all of these benefits at a concentration of 3-5%.
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant (not a hydrator), often found in its salt derivative: sodium hyaluronate. It attracts water so you want to apply it to damp skin and lock it in with an occlusive moisturiser before water can evaporate off its surface. There are always big claims about how many more times its weight in water it can hold (though I'm a little dubious about this in topicals) and different molecular weights will distribute the ingredient at different layers of the skin. That hydration can help plump out the skin and immediately (albeit temporarily) improve the look of fine lines.
The issue really is that these ingredients are in... everything! Somehow, when it comes to niacinamide, a 10% formulation has become the standard despite that being double the amount we know works, with brands bringing out 15%, 20% and even 100% concentrations in a ludicrous display of one-upmanship. A 10-20% formula used daily is likely to irritate some skin types and the issue is only compounded as the ingredient is found in so many other leave-on products from toners to moisturisers. It's often in cleansers too, which shouldn't be an issue unless it's in every step of your routine but it's not hard to understand the cumulative irritating effect of this.
Hyaluronic acid is problematic when it's used in a dry environment where it can drag moisture from the upper levels of the skin into the deeper layers, actually causing surface dehydration. For some people the molecular weights can cause issues; low molecular weights can penetrate more deeply and irritate the skin if it's in your cleanser, then layered on in your toner, your serum and then your moisturiser. High molecular weights can't get that deeply into your skin. For this reason, sodium hyaluronate is often used in formulations instead.
So, how do we solve any of this? I personally now rarely use standalone niacinamide serums, I like a blend of gentle B Vitamins or getting it through my toner or moisturiser. I don't go for 10% niacinamide serums any more as a general rule. When it comes to hyaluronic acid, I personally look for products containing a variety of molecular weights, but honestly; I rarely feel like I need a standalone product. You can try to do what I did and just take whatever serum you use (mine was branded as a Vitamin C) or your daily moisturiser and look at the INCI list. I'm pretty sure 2/3s of you will find hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate in there. In which case, I would consider if you need the separate serum at all.
Do you use these ingredients in your routine and how do you incorporate them?